Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: King of the Ants (2003)

Stuart Gordon's early films, especially his H.P. Lovecraft adaptations RE-ANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND, showed an ability to juggle potentially dark material with humor, which prevented the material from ever appearing too nasty and also allowed the films to enjoy a certain amount of crossover success. By the early years of the 21st century, however, Gordon's view of the world seemed noticeably darker, with him preferring bleak character studies of desperate people to lighthearted monster movies. This is especially evident in his adaptation of Charles Higson's novel KING OF THE ANTS.

When crooked real estate developer Ray Matthews (Daniel Baldwin) and his cohort Duke (George Wendt) need someone to tail and then murder a District Attorney who has evidence against them, they choose Sean Crawley (Chris McKenna), an amiable enough guy who makes ends meet by drifting from one odd job to the next. Sean is, as Duke says, an ant - someone who goes about his life doing insignificant things until he dies and is replaced by someone just like him. After Sean performs the hit, Ray decides to tie up loose ends by killing Sean. He's unable to do this, however, since Sean has hidden the D.A.'s evidence as insurance against just such an event. Thus begins an ever increasing battle for dominance between Sean and Ray.

KING OF THE ANTS is a film that asks just how far someone will go in order to survive. Sean goes from a nice guy who paints houses for a few dollars to illegally following someone to murder for hire to multiple murder, all in the name of his own self preservation. Not only can Sean justify everything he does, but in taking ruthless revenge on those who tried to use him he finally finds what he's good at. By pushing Sean too far, Ray and Duke have awakened a monster willing to do anything in order to preserve his self interests. 

KING OF THE ANTS is a grueling film, especially during a protracted second act sequence where Ray tries to dispose of Sean without killing him by turning him into a vegetable. This part of the film is extremely hard to watch. There are a few missteps, most notably Sean's romance with the D.A.'s widow (Kari Wuhrer), which strains credibility and doesn't really add anything to the film.  For the most part, however, KING OF THE ANTS is a tense, well acted and often brutal portrait of a man discovering the monster within himself. It's not necessarily a fun night at the movies but those who are up for it will most likely find it a rewarding experience.

For more overlooked films and a/v visit Todd Mason's blog 


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: Surf II (1984)

Possibly the dumbest comedy to be released in a decade dominated by dumb comedies (and I mean that in the most loving way possible), Randall Badat's SURF II is worth sitting through mostly to witness the finest cinematic moment of Eddie Deezen. For over three decades Deezen has been playing pretty much the same role - a nerd, kind of like an even more socially awkward Jerry Lewis, complete with slicked back hair and pocket protector, who there mainly to be mocked by the rest of the cast. Usually Deezen is limited to cameo appearances but in SURF II he gets to take center stage.

SURF II opens with a California seaside town being mildly annoyed by the mutilation deaths of two surfers. Local law enforcement Chief "Don't call me Chef" Boyardie (Lyle Waggoner) has the beach dusted for prints and deduces that a maniac is on the loose. It turns out he's correct since deep in his undersea lair beneath the local oil refinery, evil genius Menlo Schwartzer (Deezen), unhinged since being the butt of cruel practical joke, is planning his revenge against the town's surfers. Menlo plans to flood the town with Buzzz cola (the soda that also cleans drains and strips the paint from battleships) which turns whoever drinks it into garbage eating punk rock zombies. He's assisted by Sparkle (Linda Kerridge), who depends on Menlo's treatments (which involve sticking her head into what looks like a giant waffle iron) to keep her beautiful. It's up to brain dead surfers Chuck (Eric Stoltz) and Bob (Jeffery Rogers) to discover the plan and stop it before it ruins the big surf competition.

In case you haven't figured it out, there was never a SURF I. If you find that funny (like I do) then you'll probably enjoy the film. As the plot synopsis makes evident, a coherent story isn't the top priority here. The film is mostly a collection of incredibly stupid jokes, sight gags and surfing stock footage. In the middle of all this is Deezen, having a blast playing his version of a Bond villain and clearly relishing his chance to create an actual character instead of performing his usual walk-on  schtick. It's also nice to see Linda Kerridge, who spent most of her short career playing Marilyn Monroe lookalikes, doing something a bit different. Honestly, this movie seems so desperate to please, throwing so many different elements at the screen, that it's almost impossible not to find something to like here. Not only do you have the unbeatable combination of surfers and zombies but where else are you going to find Eddie Deezen, Lyle Waggoner and Eric Stoltz in the same film? 

For more overlooked film and a/v visit Todd Mason's blog.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Films: THE EYES OF ANNIE JONES (1964)

Reginald Le Borg's THE EYES OF ANNIE JONES is a strange little movie that never quite figures out what it wants to be. Part mystery, part horror film and part romantic drama, its many elements never mesh into a cohesive whole but it still manages to be a fairly interesting programmer despite itself.

The film revolves around Geraldine, a heiress to a paper fortune who has disappeared en route to Spain. The police suspect foul play since if anything happens to Geraldine her fortune is set to pass to her philandering, irresponsible brother, David (Richard Conte). David and his dotty Aunt Helen (Joyce Carey) enlist the help of Annie Jones (an impossibly young looking Francesca Annis), a troubled youth from the local orphanage who Helen believes has psychic abilities, to help in the search. Along with David's wife Carol (Myrtle Reed) the group heads off to Geraldine's house so Annie can "absorb her aura" find some answers. The only problem is that Annie is only too happy to have a break from the orphanage and is in no hurry to find the missing heiress. She also has set her sights on forty-something year old David, something he seems quite pleased with.

The biggest problem with the film is that is doesn't follow through on any of its plot elements. I won't give it away, but Geraldine's fate is revealed very early in the film, eliminating the mystery and leaving the characters to spin their wheels as the discover things that the audience already knows. The film tries to generate suspense by introducing the possibility that Annie psychic powers aren't real, but we see her demonstrate them early in the film so it's clear that she has at least some abilities. Plus, her abilities have very little, if anything, to do with the ultimate resolution of the mystery. That leaves the domestic drama, which is the least interesting plot element, yet ironically is the most successful. A lot of the movie's 73 minutes are devoted to showing Annie as a neglected girl jealous of the finer things in life and David as a sleazy playboy who doesn't have any problem cheating on his wife while she's still in the room. It's fun to watch them interact.

The film's a mess but there's something about it that still makes it watchable. Part of it is a game cast having fun with the ridiculous material. Another is trying to guess where the film is ultimately heading. It's like the filmmakers took every conceivable plot element they could think of, threw it into a stew and hoped for the best. The results may not be exactly good, but they're still pretty entertaining.

For more overlooked films and a/v go to Todd Mason's blog